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'SUMMER IN HIS HEART' the 1-2-1 INTERVIEW uncut version Nik A Ramli Tribute To Donna Summer


28 August 2012 - 3 September 2012
Interview Article Published:
23 September 2012

Hi there, this is the uncut version of my interview with The Star newspaper. I thought it would be nice to share it with all of you. I hope you'll like it.

Enjoy reading.

The Star Newspaper:

1) Tell me a bit about yourself - how did you end up overseas; what is a day in the life of an interior designer like; where were you born; where are you currently based; how many siblings do you have

First of all thank you for taking the time to talk with me and to all The Star readers I say hello.

Here’s a little bit about me: I’m approachable, friendly, easy to get along with, open minded, optimistic and believe in my dreams. No regrets, ups and downs are part of life, so if I fall down I’ll get up and continue my journey. Speaking of the journey, my overseas life began after my first job as an interior designer when I was 19 years old. Working life depends on what projects I’m working on at the time. If I’m contracted with an organization, it will be a typical working day 9.00 to 5.00. For freelance projects, my day begins around 7.00 in the morning, checking my e-mails. Then I get down to all sorts of tasks, from drawings to site visits, preparing presentations to clients and design research, in and out of my ‘home office’ for the whole day.
My earlier life as a designer was way back in the late 1980s. I had to do a few odd tasks, such as paper copying, project mailing to name a few and an office toilet project! Yes you heard me correctly – it was an office toilet and don’t even go there! In 1989 I was involved in preparing a curtain design as a backdrop for a formal government conference. Somehow one part of the curtain wasn’t ready on time and to make things worse the Malaysian Prime Minister at that time was going to be sat in front of that particular curtain drop! You can imagine how I felt and I had to come up with a solution ASAP within two days. What a drama! But it was eventually sorted out – the team and I worked our magic! It was a good learning process for me. Nevertheless I needed to learn more not only through practical experience but through education and theory too. I continued my design studies in the United Kingdom in Bradford and Leicester all the way to my Masters Degree (MA) qualification in Interior Design.

So to answer your question, I was born in Malaysia. I left hot sunny Malaysia to live in the United Kingdom in 1991. However Malaysia remains my family home. Now I’m based in the UK and I am lucky to have two homes. Since 2009 every time I’m in Kuala Lumpur I usually stay for three months or more, depending if I work on my own or am contracted with a company. Having a longer time at home is a fantastic opportunity to catch up with my loving family. I’m the youngest of six siblings with four elder sisters and one elder brother.

2) How would you describe Donna Summer: The Thrill Goes On? What is your writing style like?
It is a very personal tribute, a music biography celebrating the late American star’s musical success. It documents Donna Summer’s ups and downs during her career in the world of entertainment. It is an informative read and contains a lot of detailed factual information. This project is a fair and constructive critical analysis of my favourite singer’s artistic legacy. Still, one can’t help it if there is a little bit of bias because, after all, Donna Summer is my favourite artist. The book is aimed at all music lovers who would like to know what an incredibly creative person Donna Summer was. New fans will love this book, fanatical fans will appreciate it. I’m sure no one can satisfy every single one of Donna Summer’s hardcore followers but I hope most people will enjoy it.

As for my writing style, what can I say? All right, it is FLAWELESS, absolutely FABULOUS and FANTASTIC! Seriously, it is not for me to judge. It is a research based work. The writing will be what I would think a music biography would be. I’m not a trained creative writer or a novelist or ever claimed to be one. It is a good read for all those that love music biographies. This is my first book, so reviewers, please let’s be nice!

3) Why did you decide to write this book? Why did you choose to write about Donna Summer? What sets her apart from the other artistes?

I decided to write this book as a tribute to Donna Summer and her creativity. It is a thank you for all the joy she gave me and her fans. It was a way to compile her recordings in succession and to communicate my understanding of her music for other people in relation to her musical landscape.

Donna Summer was always a singer that I adored, and writing and researching about her work was a fascinating venture. She was a highly creative recording act, much more than just the 1970s disco icon singer that most people see her as. She left behind a variety of musical styles for the world. She wrote or co-wrote most of her songs and was involved with the albums sleeve jackets. She was also a successful painter, a subject that I have featured in the chapter ‘Colours On The Canvas’.

As a popular singer she stood apart from her peers and younger acts because she continued to be creative moved with the times. Have you seen her live shows? Summer showcased her artistic versatility with gospel, country and musical styles besides her popular dance tunes! Summer was the original ‘sensual songstress’ with the huge hit ‘Love To Love You Baby’. She was the original bad girl! Listen to her ‘Bad Girls’ double album and you are in heaven! Musically, she and her producer Giorgio Moroder started the ‘synthesizer’ trend with ‘I Feel Love’ way back in 1977. When disco music’s popularity waned, she evolved into a new wave, pop rock artist! While younger singers dominated the chart, Summer’s album ‘Crayons’, released in 2008, charted at no.17 in the Billboard album chart. Her 2010 ‘To Paris With Love’ was a no.1 dance chart hit. What more can you say? And her voice remained powerful as could be heard on the single ‘Angel’ released in 2012, on which rapper O’Mega Red featured Donna Summer.
4) What influence has her music had on your life?

On a personal level, it was her voice. It is not something you can easily explain. When you hear her voice you get that sensational feeling! You or some readers may say “What on earth is Nik talking about?” You have to be very keen on music and listen to each sound that comes out of the speakers. Not through your iPod or a lap top or a compressed MP3 file! Her lyrics also influenced me, often telling a story about day to day life, from love to spirituality. As an example, ‘Get Ethnic’ from the album ‘Mistaken Identity’ provided social commentary on the tendency of some people to identify more with other ethnic groups than their own, denying their own roots. Professionally her music and cover sleeves provided inspiration for some of my creative work. I explain this in my book using the example of her ‘Four Seasons Of Love’ album cover and the ‘Love To Love You Baby’ song which she re-recorded for the Loverdose perfume advert in 2011.
5) Do you remember when you were first introduced to her music what was it about her (or her music) that you first noticed? Do you have a favourite song or album by her?

 Now we are going back a while! I remember it all. It was on a US show broadcasted by RTM in 1979. She performed ‘Love To Love You Baby’ and in the show a sketch, played by David Soul, came to her while she was sitting in a bar or something. With her sensual image at that time and the way she spoke (playing her part), I was instantly attracted to her persona! Later my sister introduced me to Donna Summer with the LP ‘On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I &II’. Her timbre and the delightfully designed LP cover and the way the songs all blend in to each other in a continuous play instantly hooked me.

You know, to select one favourite song is hard: every song tells a story and brings back a different feeling, different memories. If I must say, ‘Work That Magic (Capricorn ISA Remix)’ is the one. The remix is up to date, a classy, spacey, ambient sound for chilling out. As for the albums, each project is different. Summer was known for her conceptual approach to an album, from the Cinderella fairytale tale of ‘Once Upon A Time’ to some fabulous greatest hits packages such as the double CD ‘Gold’. The 2004 ‘The Journey: The Very Best Of Donna Summer’ reminds me of the time I met her eye to eye in London. A few days earlier I saw her at a live UK TV recording session where I was spotted and asked to stand up as one of the best dressers during the recording break! The TV show was in conjunction of her 2004 release and was a celebration of ‘disco’ music. So I can’t really select just one favourite album by her.

6) What challenges did you face in writing and publishing this book? What was the writing process like? How long did it take? How did you juggle your day job and writing this book?

The challenge was to get people to think out of the box. When I mentioned that I was writing a music biography, some people thought it was unacceptable! They thought that an interior designer should release a design book. But don’t get me wrong, I received a lot of encouraging feedback too.

I gained some experience of the writing process through my articles on interior design tips. But writing a factual book about someone popular is a totally different proposition. There are a lot of considerations one needs to take account of such as legal matters and finalising and analysis of the research. Doing the research is one of the most interesting parts of the writing process. These days, conducting research can be like floating in a small boat in the middle of an ocean: The amount of information available is vast as we are living in a world with the internet. However, the traditional method of library research was a thrilling experience. From that point I then also conducted interviews with selected national and international media figures related to Donna Summer. This began in 2009. It is important for me to get information from as many different sources as possible and I wanted a fresh feel to the work.

Every writer has their own approach to completing their research. There are no right or wrong ways of writing in my own personal view. Still, a regular or professional writer will develop their own approach which will suit their way of working. It took me a while, as I was working full time during the initial phase of writing the manuscript for publication. I would say it was an ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ process. Until you have gone through the process of producing a book you don’t really appreciate how much work it involves. I had to work late at night and on the weekends. Creating a conducive environment is important so that you can focus on the work.
7) Is this your first book? Have you been involved in any other music-related writing projects

Yes, ‘Donna Summer The Thrill Goes On – A Tribute’ is my first book. I had previously written a Malay and English biography and compiled data about the work of Uji Rashid for her official Facebook page.

8) In another interview, you mentioned that the book was never meant to be publishedat what point did you start thinking about publishing it, and why?

Oh, you have done your research! My book started as a hobby as early as 1997. It was really just a compilation of data. As I accumulated more and more information I began to type it all on my laptop from January to July 1999. At one point I called a UK magazine to tell them about all the information that I had gathered. They were impressed but they have their own writers to compile and write an article. I was also working fulltime. I decided to take a break and started to write again with 26 pages of A4 printed on 20th January 2000. Still, publishing it as a book was not something I thought of. In 2007, I completed a TV drama script for a UK TV channel. I submitted the six part drama in competition with other professional writers. However there was a catch – if my script was selected it would mean I would have to leave my job and I was not keen to do that. As ‘luck’ would have it I was not selected anyway! In late 2008 I started enquiring about how to publish my work. A manuscript was mailed to Book Guild Publishing on the 21st September 2009 and on October 6th I received this reply:

'With further reference to our letter...we found Donna Summer... to be an interesting work. The essential information is all there... We confirm that we would be pleased to work with you to publication'.
I was so thrilled! It was first mentioned during my TV3 ‘MHI’ interview the same month. You know, life is to short and I don’t like to be boxed into just one creative place. Besides, when I start something I mean to finish it. I don’t like doing something halfway, no matter what the outcome will be. So it’s ‘All Systems Go’!
9) What is your favourite part of the book? Likewise, which aspect was the most difficult for you to tackle?
Every part of the book is my favourite. I loved every part including writing the chapter titles, editing the chapter numbers, research, interviews, the whole lot. I put my heart and soul into it. Researching the photographs of Donna Summer for the book was a thrilling experience. I had total control over the look of the book, jacket design even the layout of the photo plates! Am I a control freak? Yes! I have my vision and ideas and I worked closely with the publisher’s design team to turn that vision into reality. That was what I said to them before I agreed the contract. Still, I do listen to my publishers’ points of view. Putting together information garnered from Donna Summer devotees was my favourite part of the book. I was privileged to have Bruce Roberts, the creator of ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), to write the forward while Chaka Khan agreed to write a quote.

Producing a book is a balancing act and there are difficult aspects to tackle. I would say getting in the mood to sit and write regularly is difficult! At times you are just not into it. You have to have that moment; I tend to get inspiration either in the morning or late at night! Getting the rights to use images was one of the most time consuming and difficult part of the process. For example, even though it was finalised with Mercury Records UK, at the final minute it was pointed out that the pictures were the copyright of the US division. Due to time constraints we ended up not using those photos which was a real shame.

10) During your research for the book, what interesting things did you uncover that’s particularly personalspecial to you? (Briefly provide one or two examples.)

The great response I got from media figures for an interview was interesting and really special to me. I hope I don’t upset anybody if I don’t mention any names, but as an example, talking to Gloria Gaynor, the original ‘Queen Of Disco’, was a privilege. She is so sweet and kind. Getting a personal respond from Louis Walsh, the UK X-factor judge, while he was on holiday was good! Uncovering some aspects of how Donna Summer worked for the album ‘Another Place And Time’ from my interview with Pete Waterman was amazing. You have to read the book to know more!
11) Did working on this book change your impression of Donna Summerand if so, in what ways?

Yes I think it did. I discovered that she changed the way she worked over the years. In the 1970s she was in and out of the studio as quickly as possible, delivering her performances very rapidly with few re-takes. During the 1980s through the 2000s Donna Summer spent much longer honing her sound before she allowed her fans to hear it. Basically, she took a more professional and discerning approach to her work as she matured.

12) What would you say to her if you could meet her now, with your completed book in hand?

That is a deep question. The book was being prepared for release when she died. She knew that it was going to be released and I had previewed chapters and information for her management in April 2011. I actually bought a gift in 2010 which I hoped to present to her with the book. I contacted her manager a couple of weeks ago and told him that I will give the copy of the book to her husband, Bruce Sudano, after the book is released. What you would say to someone after you know they are dead will inevitably be different to what you would have said before you knew what would happen.
13) How did you react to news of her death? Where were youwhat were you doing when you first heard?

I was shocked. No words can describe my feelings at the time. I was in front of my laptop inviting guests for the book launch. A cover letter inviting Donna Summer was written early that day. I received the news at 4.40 pm from a friend but it didn’t really seem real. So then I called her manager’s office in New York at 5pm and it was confirmed. The 17th May 2012 will never been forgotten by her fans. She will always be missed. Our prayers go to her family.

14) Who do you think this book will appeal to? What do you consider the most distinctive feature of the book? What message would you like to deliver with this book?

The book will appeal to all Summer fans and it is especially aimed at readers who wish to know more about Donna Summer’s music, for anybody that loves popular music: it provides a musical time line for the American star’s work. New fans will love it. Every chapters is distinctive I would say! It is all in the book. Enjoy your read. However, if readers are looking for cheap gossip then this book is not for them. This publication is about her music, her professional ups and downs and her many achievements. What made Donna Summer get to the top and stay there? Do you see her as just the ‘Queen Of Disco’ or did she have more to offer? I deliver all this to my readers. There are also some selections of great photographs taken over the course of her career. From studio shoots, candid shots to some captured at shows selected by me and even up close with Donna Summer and fans!
15) Can we expect more books from you in the near future?

Writing another book? Well let me think... I would like to write about interior design and who knows, my script could be turn into a small little novel! So I say perhaps, perhaps, perhaps in answer to your question.

I thank you...

- end -

Click the link to read the written article published by The Star newspaper:

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